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Nigerian film banned from Oscars foreign list for too much English

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Nigeria’s first-ever entry for the international feature film Oscar category has been disqualified for containing too much English, sparking furious debate among filmmakers. 

The film Lionheart stars and is directed by Nollywood star Genevieve Nnaji. The film tells the tale of a young woman running a company in dire financial straits in a male-dominated industry after her ailing father has to step down. 

The 95-minute film was Netflix’s first Nollywood acquisition. It contains about 10 minutes of Igbo language, one of ’s main languages, but the rest is in English. 

This was not enough foreign language content for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who say that to compete in their international category a film must be produced outside the US and have “a predominantly non-English dialogue track.”

The decision has sparked a huge debate in Nigeria with many saying it is an injustice to ban a film from competing in a language imposed on it by colonial Britain. 

Ava DuVernay, a well known American director, took to Twitter to criticise the move: “English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?” Her comments have attracted almost 100,000 likes. 

Mrs Nnaji defended her film saying that: “[The] movie represents the way we speak as . This includes English which acts as a bridge between the 500+ languages spoken in our country; thereby making us.”

However, some like Ghanian director, Leila Djansi, backed the Academy’s decision and told African filmmakers to make more films in their own local languages. “Don’t play victim when you don’t [follow the rules]…This constant excuse of “if we don’t make it English it won’t sell” is old.”

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“Leave your colonial master alone. He’s gone. You’re free. Now, choose!,” Mrs Djansi wrote in a Facebook post. 

For now, the Academy is standing by its decision. While the film has been barred from competing in the international category, it can still be considered for other categories such as best picture. 

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